Friday, November 16, 2012

His name was Ben

I officiated at a funeral today. That's not a new experience for me. In my 21 years at St. John's in Waterbury, I averaged a tad over 40 funerals a year. All told, I'm closing in on 1000 funerals. Not the kind of achievement you set out to accomplish....Yet, I am honored and humbled each time I'm involved in a funeral, no matter the circumstances. I've told the 30+ seminarians I've supervised and mentored that the most important things they'll ever do as priests is funerals.

I mean that. And I am privileged to have been a part of so many--for one thing, I'll never say dumb shit like "he's in a better place" or "God wanted her home....". I'm reliable for not saying dumb shit because I have no words at all to say in the face of death. I just sit with the survivors, help them plan the service and hold them if they want to be held.

Ben's mother called me yesterday--we've talked a lot since Saturday when Ben died in a horrendous accident while working on the family's property in New Hampshire--and she said "I feel out of control!" I told her--which is the limit of my conversation with people who have lost someone they love like a rock, "you are out of control. You are ultimately out of control." I wondered if I had tread too near the edge, but she sighed and said, "I am out of control. I have to give up being in control."

Oh, yes, beloved, when people die there is no 'control' to be in control of. When people die, a dear friend of mine wrote over 40 years ago (where does the time go?) when a friend of hers died in Viet  Nam, "it's like a bird flying into a window on a chill morning....."

Fix that, if you can.

You can't, give it up, no control/no control/no control....

In that approaching 1000 funerals, I've never be a part of one quite like Ben's.

He was only 19 when he died. Wednesday, the day before his funeral, he would have been 20. Imagine what that day was like for his parents---no, don't, you CAN'T imagine it and you shouldn't try. You just shouldn't. You and I cannot for a moment imagine what that was like unless you too have lost a child to death. And if you have done that, don't try to imagine because it would be too painful....

Anyway, I was going to the funeral home Wednesday night to pray the prayers for a Vigil with the family. I was to be there at 4:45 but a wreck in Middletown got me redirected and I didn't get there until 5:05. When I arrived there were several hundred people in line to speak to the family. I was carrying a Book of Common Prayer, which serves as my calling card since I haven't worn a clerical collar for decade or more, so people let me cut line. I told the family it was nonsense to try to do the prayers and told them we'd meet in the morning.

The service was at Holy Trinity in Middletown, thanks to their generosity, because St. James in Higganum wouldn't have held the crowd. St. James can seat 80 or so, packed in, and nearly 400 people showed up for the funeral.

At huge funerals like this, often only a few people receiver communion. But I ran through over 350 wafers as a disc of Ben's favorite music played. That and the fact that most everyone at the rail had wet eyes if not tears running down their faces, I realized this funeral was in the top 5% of all the funerals I have done for authentic grief.

Ben's aunt, who is a pediatrician, talked about how special he was and handed out stickers that said, "WWBFD?"--what would Ben Foisie do?

I never met him, but I do think, after all I heard and was told about him, that was a reasonable question. One to ponder. He was so authentic, sweet, accepting, loving, honest--'special', indeed--that trying to live as he would have lived had he been able to--might be a superlative way to live.

Altogether, a remarkable burial office. Altogether something that made me better, stronger, kinder, more open.

Just the gift that death should give. If we are only open to the giving....

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some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.